Welcome to this little ‘worship blog’ of Digby Baptist Church. Here you can find text of the sermon, and by Sunday afternoon, video of the Children’s Time and the Sermon, or other elements of worship. More information for December 6th is available in the Bulletin, also found here on our website. Click on the Bulletin tab.
GOOD GIFTS (Joel 2:12-13, 28-29; Luke 11:9-13) – J G White – 11 am, 2nd Sun of Advent, Dec 6, 2020 – UBC Digby – Saint Nicholas Day
We are in the month of gift-giving now. I have been puttering away at my Christmas shopping. How about you? As disciples of Jesus, we look back to the gifts given to Jesus when He was small: the praise of angels; the attention of local shepherds; gold frank- incense and myrrh. We look to all Jesus’ compassion and generosity and miracles, for people who truly needed a gift in their lives: food, or healing, or comfort, or forgiveness, or love and acceptance.
We read today that scene in Luke 11 where Jesus famously says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you…” And He goes on to speak of bad gifts and good gifts. God is the giver of good gifts, better gifts that we give to one another.
Who is the gift-giver who gets the greatest attention? Today is his day, after all. Saint Nicholas, of course. Apparently he died on December 6th, 343.
Nicholas of Myra was so called because he was the Bishop of Myra, on the coast of Asia Minor, which we now know as the country Turkey. Amid the little towns the Apostle Paul had visited, and those John has seven letters to in Revelation, was the town, Myra. Some cultures have had December 6th as the day for gift-giving. It is a fitting day to remember the legends of Bishop Nicholas that still inspire Xians.
So it is story time: the story of Nicholas and the Purses of Gold, as told by Mary Cousins, 20th century writer about ‘the saints.’
Whenever he could, Nicholas liked doing good– but secretly, and in his city of Myra there were many poor people who owed their life and their happiness to Nicholas–but who had been asked never to talk about it.
Now, one day, Nicholas was told that there was a poor father nearly gone mad because he could not provide for his daughters in a suitable fashion. The daughters were longing to marry, but there was not a penny-a-piece for their dowries, and this meant they must remain for ever single. No girl of the East could hope to marry without a dowry–the sum of money which the father settled on the bride before the wedding day.
As soon as the news of the poor, unhappy father came to Nicholas, he made up his mind to help him. And he decided to do it secretly and without fuss, which is always the best way of doing good.
What do you think Nicholas did? Well, he waited until it was a very black kind of night; then, under cover of darkness, he made his way to the little house where the father and his three daughters lived.
Nicholas carried something heavy under his long cloak–something precious too–a bag of gold. First, he thought he would leave it on the doorstep, then he saw the open window, and being wise as well as good, he reached up and dropped the bag through the window. Then he crept away.
If you’ve ever been given a present right out of the blue–something you never dreamt you would ever get–you’ll know just a bit of how the poor father felt when he saw that bag of gold in the morning.
He cried tears of joy–and so did his daughter, his eldest daughter–for this meant that she could marry after all.
But what of the other two? Did Nicholas forget about the sisters? Of course not, for the very next week the father found a second bag of gold on the kitchen floor.
More tears; more sighs of sheer happiness as the second daughter began thinking of her wedding dress and her own little house and all the ten children she would have!
…Her father… was looking thoughtful… You see, he was thinking. ‘What a pity I can’t say “thank you” to the giver of these bags of gold. I shall never rest content until I know who it is.’
That night, without telling his daughters, the father sat by the window, waiting. But nothing happened. The street remained dark and silent. Then the moon disappeared altogether and it grew so cold that at last he went to bed.
So the next night he waited by the window, and the next and the next. And then on the fourth night, when he was just on the point of giving up, he heard steps.
Scarcely daring to breathe, he waited and then–a hand came through the window, and the father grabbed it and held on tight. Down clattered the bag of gold, but still he held on.
‘Stay where you are!’ he whispered, ‘if you want to make an old man happy.’
And Nicholas answered gently: ‘Open your door, and I will talk with you for a moment, but rest content…I want no thanks.’ (Mary Cousins, More about the Saints, 1959, pp. 32-35)
Consider, for a moment, all the gift-giving to children today, in the name of Nicholas, that helps people get ‘no thanks,’ from the children who receive. Saint Nick gets the thanks.
The stories of Christmas gift-giving are endless. As we come to this season again, let us take note of what it is to give good gifts.
Perhaps you have had moments when you got a gift that, well, was not quite what you wanted nor needed. And most of us have given a gift that was not quite right. I remember…
What makes the best gift? Is it not a needed gift? This is the season of heightened charity: generosity to those most in need, often through many organizations, not to mention Churches. The hungry get fed, those with little are provided with gifts, those mostly alone are remembered and visited.
My main text today is from the prophet Joel. Four pages in your Bible, spoken by Joel for God, in the face of a plague. Here, I see some good gifts, in the midst of Joel’s world, which was in serious trouble, back, oh, five hundred years before Jesus, give or take a couple centuries.
You may know that Joel, the Hebrew prophet, preaches in the midst of a great plague of locusts that have devastated the land and the lives of the Jews.
What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten.
What the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten. (1:4)
The later verses that I had Sara read speak of what I see as a few gifts. The opportunity to turn around & mend our ways is a gift. The possible mercy and help of God is a gift. A return to God – today we might say ‘making peace with God’ – is a gift. And the Spirit of God poured out on all the people is an incredible gift!
Like I said, a good gift is a needed gift. These things were needed in the ancient days of Joel, who spoke this hope to the Israelites. What things are needed by Canadians this December? Not to mention other millions around the globe?
Some of us need to know that this time will be over, this pandemic that creates so many precautions and limitations to ‘life as we knew it.’ We have fears that our lives will never be quite the same again. Some long and hope and believe we will get back to ‘normal’ next year, or maybe the year after that.
When the locust plague was raging, in Joel’s day, one thing his Godly message said was: gather for a serious service! He said in it ways the Hebrews understood. Joel was pro-worship. Today, and in our circumstance, gathering for serious prayer and time with God is challenging. There are ways to ‘gather,’ so to speak, without being in the same room. We must use these ways! For the sake of serious lamenting, intense asking, and concerted listening to God.
There is also a need to know how to live in these days, and not just wait out these months so we can live again, some day. Before even one prayer is answered, remember to Whom we pray. The God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. To live when we can’t go everywhere, be still and know that God is God. Be aware that God reaches those you can no longer reach. Look for how God might be at work even for those who can no longer go to work! Before anything gets better, we can get creative with the Creator, and still live.
So there is a need to become willing to live differently for the sake of being safer and preserving lives. Even when opinions differ about what should be done to fight this virus, there is a common humility and willingness to bless others that must be shared.
This can be a good gift to others: go shopping when you need to go shopping, and wear a mask. This way is intended to be life-giving to others. Alongside this, for every trip you don’t take to the grocery store, or the coffee shop, make a phone call to people you would have seen there and talked with. Stay thoughtful. For every thing you must give up these days, find something you can do instead.
And there is a need to have good attitudes, better attitudes, towards one another on this planet. In times of testing people get testy. This year has proved that! Social media proves that. What can God do to transform people from the inside out? Make a heart change? Reform the human conscience? ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,’ Joel proclaimed. Hundreds of years later Peter preached it again, at Pentecost.
Let me finish by sharing a remarkable list. A list Don Robertson shared with our Men’s Fellowship back in January. (Remember January?) CREATIVE WISHES FOR 2020. Now that this year has turned out the way it has, look at how wise, how appropriate, how prophetic, how inspired Pastor Don’s ideas were.
MAGNANIMITY – become more altruistic.
RESILIENCE – develop true flexibility.
ENTHUSIASM – grow in positive energy.
INITIATIVE – take creative steps in life.
What gifts, this December, will truly be good gifts that you give out? Gifts that help. Gifts that are needed by the ones who receive. Gifts that are part of making a difference in our corner of the world today.
God’s gift to us to help us is… God! God with us. Jesus, Emmanuel. The Spirit, poured out upon us. Remember this always.
PRAYERS: Let us pray. Mighty, Gracious One, do Your own good pleasure in the lives we bring. We do bring ourselves – body and soul, together before You now. Gathered ‘round Your table we pray, asking for the sake of the world.
O Healer, one disease has altered ways of life in every corner of the world. We ask for help in the life of every sick person, and those who care for them. Beyond the coronavirus, all the other diseases still go on; for healing and comfort and help and care we pray.
In this age of fears we bow before You in awe and wonder. Master, ours is a time of safety precautions. We pray for all who are unable to join us on Sundays or who choose to remain safely away from the fellowship. May none feel unnecessary guilt, may all who stay away know they are still part of the church family, may all those absent be blessed by other ways to stay connected & stay worshipping, on their own.
Spirit of Compassion, our prayerfulness is for the sake of those in need, nearby and far away. Even our charities and benevolent giving are disrupted this year. May the barriers be overcome, so the hungry will have good food, the empty-handed will have helpful gifts, and the poor in spirit will be lifted up with some real joy. Bless the Churches and organizations working to reach out with practical love, once again this December.
And on this day when a disaster in Halifax is remembered, and a day of violence in Montreal, let there be peace on earth. Our souls sing out, longing for a peace the world cannot give. A peace from the Prince of Peace, Jesus. In His name. AMEN.